Border-Line Beautiful; Clive Aslet Heads to the History-Laden Land Where Scotland and England Meet - and Revels in Its Tranquillity

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), September 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

Border-Line Beautiful; Clive Aslet Heads to the History-Laden Land Where Scotland and England Meet - and Revels in Its Tranquillity


THREE miles west of Berwick-upon-Tweed is a suspension bridge. When it opened in 1820, it was the longest in the world, although it only spans the pastoral River Tweed. It's just wide enough for a car to squeeze across - not that traffic is queuing up around these parts to use it.

For this is an unusually peaceful place, a paradise for fishermen, lovers of architecture and history, and anyone who wants to enjoy the quiet of the some of the most glorious countryside in Britain.

We stayed at Chain Bridge House, billed as the last house in England, at the southern end of the Union Bridge. Over the river is Scotland.

This Border land is defined by its past. We were aware of it as soon as we'd arrived at Berwick station, one of only two in Britain - the other being Newcastle-upon-Tyne - that incorporates castle walls. A notice declares that the platform stands on the site of the great hall.

In a later era, the Victorians built an elegant railway viaduct to get to their new station.

Then as now, the Borders was good farmland, and worth fighting over. The monasteries that were established on the north bank of the Tweed had a rough time of it, but because Scotland did not suffer the dissolution of the monasteries in the same way as England, they seem astonishingly complete by comparison - and show the stupendous ambition of the monks.

Melrose Abbey - rosy of hue as well as name - is still partly roofed. I went to the top of the tower and thought I would be blown back to London. All that remains of Kelso Abbey, built in the Norman period, is part of the early 12th Century west tower, but it's on a colossal scale. Dryburgh contains a monument to one of my favourite Scottish Kings, James II. An early enthusiast for artillery, he was blown up when inspecting one of his own cannon.

In the village of Branxton, the red telephone box is worth a look. It has been adapted by a local group as the world's smallest visitor centre, giving information about the Battle of Flodden which took place nearby and whose 500th anniversary falls later this year. Flodden was the great military success of Henry VIII's reign. …

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